Before we left for vacation, I tried to touch on the angst of anxiety disorder before a trip. I wanted to go into detail about what that’s actually like for so many of us whose brains overshoot the adrenaline. This isn’t a typical post for me, but I got some feedback on that post that made me feel like I had an audience for this.
I can look back now and see that even in my young adult years, I had control issues when it came to my environment. Specifically, coming and going. I set out my clothes the night before school. I made lists. Instead of being picked up, I met most of my dates at the location, I was usually the designated driver when I went out with friends, and I particularly hated waiting for anyone and everyone to be ready to leave, which is why I liked driving — my car, ever ready for my escape.
One of the times that anxiety never fails to get me is when it’s time to leave the house. This is pretty much all the time. The exception is when I’m in THE ZONE. If I am working intensely on a project and I need something (twine, bleach, painter’s tape) I will drive to the store and get it, without pause. These moments are rare. I thank distraction.
I will always leave early because waiting to leave and being late are both hellish.
The getting ready to leave the house thing is killer for a lot of people with anxiety disorder. Yes, it’s normal to be anxious because you’re scheduled for root canal or you’re closing on a house or you’re being interviewed for a job. That’s normal anxious. Even if you had a panic attack or threw up before those things, your doctor would check you out and reassure you it’s stress-induced.
Imagine you feel like that before going to school or work every single day.
Or when you’re meeting your best friend for coffee.
Imagine you feel like that before you go to the grocery store.
Imagine it all the time, every time you leave your house.
People with anxiety disorder often feel like that.
Then some of us have panic attacks in the shower, nearly throw up in the lawn, drive to the grocery store with tunnel vision, enter the grocery store replete with sensory bombardment, walk around with our hands clutched to our chests, or maybe just one hand on our throats, realize we’ve left the list on the kitchen counter, spill our coupons in the produce section, tremble and cry while we pick them up, hear everything, including ourselves, like we’re outside of our bodies, almost pass out when we pick up a box of oatmeal, pay in a blur of confusion and vertigo, leave the bag of butter at the check-out, drive home with tunnel vision, hands gripping the steering wheel, afraid of every other driver on the road, stumble into the house with the bags, put all the food away, and with every muscle wound tightly, collapse.
I’ve experienced many versions of that.
Then all those things that happened during the adrenaline-induced panic become panic triggers. You cannot avoid them unless you give up living a quotidian life.
You try to adapt.
So you start taking baths.
You go to a different grocery store.
You go when it’s less crowded.
You sign up for electronic coupons instead.
You make your kids pick out the oatmeal.
You compulsively buy butter every time you go to the store until you actually have to tell your friends to remind you that you do not need any more butter.
But it doesn’t stop.
Now you hate driving, because it makes you sick.
It spills over from mundane into your fun stuff.
You used to love concerts, adventure, travel, drinking and dancing into the night. People say you’re only growing older, but you know how you were and it wasn’t so exhausting before. It isn’t your age, it’s your brain, poisoning you with adrenaline.
Your friends say you’ve grown too introverted, and they stop asking you to join them because they know you’re gonna decline. They don’t understand until they’re around long enough to watch you go and go and go, with the same intensity you had at 20. “There she is! There’s my vivacious Joey!”
It’s visceral. While it’s happening, you look fine, you seem well to others. You just feel like you’re dying. I don’t mean that dramatically, I mean that you’re so fucked up that there’s an instinctual feeling in the depths of you which convinces you your time has come.
I don’t even feel well while writing it.
I can hear my own heartbeat in my ears.
My throat is swelling.
My skull is shrinking.
My shoulders ache.
At the end of pushing through, after the go and go and go — You were having such a wonderful time! Your friends and family see you: broken. Exhausted, a bout of migraines, a fever, an infection, a cold sore, swollen glands, a rash, maybe hives, a pinched nerve in your neck, jaw pain, digestion upset (can you say stomach acid?!?) visibly inflamed joints. You’ve clenched every muscle in your body for far too long. You didn’t get enough sleep. Your doctor says you need antibiotics and steroids. You don’t want antibiotics and steroids. Your doctor says to take it easy. You want to take it easy, but you don’t want to miss out on all the fun.
Fun things aren’t as much fun, and need to be taken with a dose of downtime, not just because you’re an introvert, but because your brain will literally make you sick. Mental health issues highlight all your physical issues.
You go to therapy. You take the benzos. You do the work. You start reading books about balance and zen and setting your own limits. You follow all the advice of anyone who’ll give it. You get rid of toxic people, which for you, are people who push you.
You don’t schedule an entire day out, you schedule the post office on one day, the grocery on another, appointments early, and on a day you can relax after. You pay careful attention to how you’re feeling. You maybe overfeel, at the risk of going too far at once.
You are fragile and yet, incredibly strong.
That’s a real thing.
I’m better now, not cured. I’m better because I know what it is and how to react. I’m so glad I had therapy. About half of my out-of-the house trips involve anxiety now, but they rarely involve panic. Most of the time I’m fine as soon as I leave the house. The wait is over, the now is now and I get on fine, out there. I’ve found a great deal of go and go and go can be done AROUND MY HOUSE, at my convenience, without a schedule. I love reading, writing, cooking, gardening, sewing, DIY, coloring, games, drinking and dancing, my shows, my laptop.
That is not to say panic can’t find me at home, because that happens, too.
When it’s time to go is a real bitch. When it’s time to stop is a real bitch. Variations on a theme do occur in this respect, and I’m interested in reading about what always gets to you and how you cope.
avoidance technique coping mechanism has been to marry another control freak who makes me feel safe, and who prefers to drive, and who will be happy to stop and pick up butter on his way home. The Mister, he says to me last night, “It’s not just sex. It’s everything. You have a great appetite for life all around.”
And you would too, if you always had a voice telling you you’re dying.
I find immense gratitude and happiness simply by living in my own version of normal. That’s how I win.
How do you win?
It’s perfectly acceptable to say you win by not having anxiety disorder.